Battling Workspace Obsolescence

Workspace obsolescence is not a new topic among thought leaders but has taken on a new twist. Over the past 10 years, technology and demographic changes in the workspace have had huge impacts on designing a space that can adapt to divergent demands. The rate of change is not only impacting workspace design but is also central to the debate on in-office work versus remote work.

There is a way to offset the phenomenon of workspace obsolescence. When done correctly, the analysis of current work modes, demographics, and collaboration style is evaluated for both workforce productivity and cultural balance. This is only a snapshot of today, so it’s also important to look ahead to predict a workspace solution for the future workforce. The goal is to design a workspace that is balanced for today’s workforce while flexible enough to attract and retain future employees as well. From a workspace design perspective, this can be simplified based on work modes and supported with training and policy.

The hybrid workspace in the near term will emphasize Meeting, Social, and Learning work modes, while Focus work will occur at home or in the “3rd place.” This evolution is already under way and supports the philosophy of designing workspace to be flexible for multi-use applications.

Our thinking is that workspace design has always needed flexible, multi-use outcomes to accommodate change over the lifespan of an office lease. Our expertise comes from over 25 years as both an office furniture dealer and full-spectrum workspace service provider. Today, we are very busy moving, reconfiguring, or decommissioning fixed-in-place workspaces that are no longer viable to the user. Providing these services informs the workspace design solutions we recommend. This is now only part of the equation; the very existence of workspaces is debated among most companies.

The need for workspace itself is the question that has many in “analysis paralysis.” How and where will company culture develop and manifest? This question is evolving and for many it remains unanswered. Most important in my mind is how those entering the workforce will be trained and mentored for success? We believe our business is learned by “doing” as most are, and a true understanding of the nuance of the business takes about five years. Ultimately, companies need to figure out how to on-board new hires and develop and grow their talent. These variables are only part of the decision-making process that challenge companies both large and small.

There is no doubt we’re only scratching the surface in both workspace design obsolescence and workspace relevance. Over my time in the industry, I have seen workstation footprints shrink from 8’ x 10’ to 5’ x 5’. I’ve seen cubicles transition to open space transition to sound dampening dividers. My experience has taught me that the key to creating a workspace that works for you is understanding the needs of your company. This is not so much a change from the way we’ve delivered workspace in the past, rather rearranging the work-modes we are supporting for the current and future workforce.

Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same…